Kids’ health: What’s Making Our Children Sick?

What’s Making Our Children Sick? is an important new book about kids’ health by veteran paediatrician Dr Michelle Perro and med- ical anthropologist Dr Vincanne Adams, which explores the links between the growing wave of chronic health issues affecting our chil- dren (including conditions like asthma, ecze- ma, allergies, ADHD, autism and obesity) and our exposure to poisons in the environment, especially from our modern industrial food. I have managed to chat to them about some of the burning issues that have bothered me as a parent for some time. 

Q: Today either medicine has labelled every single condition, particularly mental health related behaviour or there’s an increase in mental health issues with children. How much does food contribute to mental health in the early ages? 

RESPONSE:  Actually, despite increases in diagnostic catchment, there are actual increases in mental health conditions in many industrialized nations.  We argue that nutrition, but particularly food quality (and pesticides or other toxicants in our foods) play a large role in these increases.  We know, for instance that links between gut health and mental health are profound. We also know that gut health is key to enabling the body to extract nutrients from foods, and in fact the microbes in our intestines play a key role in this process.  What we don’t know enough about from human studies, but we do know about from animal studies, is that foods grown using GM technologies are likely to be harmful to our gut bacteria.  Additionally, we also know that if food is not grown organically, it will contain pesticides, the most prolific of which globally is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.  Glyphosate, among other things, is a chelator, a substance that binds metals.  One argument that is begin made by some scientists is that glyphosate is binding key mineral nutrients that are vital for brain function (possibly zinc and magnesium), making them unavailable.  In clinical examinations and in laboratory analysis, children are often showing up with mineral nutrient deficiencies.  This can also be linked with mental health issues.  Glyphosate also may be implicated in less direct ways, for instance, by way of its action as an antibiotic.  

Q: What food can be used to reduce aggressive forms of behaviour in children especially close to the teenage year? 

RESPONSE: Eating healthy and nutritious foods is key to health for people at any age, but particularly for children and adolescents.  If children have food allergies or sensitivities, eating these foods can create chronic immune system responses, not to mention deprive the maturing brain of necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins.   Beyond the problem of food sensitivities, we know that high carb, high sugar intake can contribute to health problems (including behavioral and mental health problems). Chronic inflammation in the gut can cause secondary inflammation in the brain.  Placing children on anti-inflammatory diets that emphasize whole foods free of pesticides, preservatives, food dyes, artificial sweeteners (aspartame), etc, can ameliorate behavioral disorders.  Working with a holistic nutritionist can help families utilize ‘food as medicine,’ however, there are many references and cookbooks available to help families that do not have access to this type of practitioner.


Q:  I don’t remember anyone in the 70s and 80s at school with allergies. Now, on the other hand, all kids seem to suffer under one type of allergy or another. How is this possible? Is it a case of over-labelling or has something profoundly changed in our eco-system?

RESPONSE: Yes. this is shocking.  It is true that rates of food allergies have skyrocketed. Again, one of the possible reasons for this is mapped out in our book in which we describe the problems of leaky gut and dysbiosis (triggered by pesticides in our foods or foods that have become pesticides) and the chronic inflammation that results therefrom. Although there are few studies looking at the role of GM food specifically in allergies, there is some evidence that soy allergies shot up after the introduction of GM food in the UK.    Remember, we eat GM foods with their associated pesticides so it is difficult to delineate whether it is the GM process, the specific proteins in the GM foods, or the pesticides they are used with, or all three, may be involved in poor health.  Contemporary researchers (Pusztai, Antoniou, Seralini and Martineau) point to the evidence showing harm from the GM process itself and hypothesizing that rogue proteins that are formed from the GM process may trigger immune responses. We need more research on these possibilities.


Q: In one chapter you describe a child called Mike who was addicted to junk food and displayed aggressive and erratic behaviour. What are your suggested steps to find out what causes a child’s aggressive behaviour / sudden bursts of violence?

RESPONSE: Diagnosing and offering therapeutic pathways to children with tendencies toward violence and aggression is always challenging, and many times there can be underlying mental health disorders for which psychotropic treatments can be helpful.  However, before going that way, and based on what we describe in the book, we believe the possibilities of therapeutic interventions using food and other less dramatic interventions should be tried first.  Sometimes these alone can provide astounding results, even if, in some cases, there is also need for more pharmaceutical arsenal. Again, working with integrative practitioners can sometimes help families get to the ‘root cause’ — a proposition we suggest often begins in the gut.  Practitioners well versed in integrative medicine may look at markers of inflammation, nutrient levels, evidence of gut permeability, and they can look for imbalances in the gut microbiome using stool analysis.  We don’t offer specific medical prescriptions in the book, but we do suggest that looking at mental health through a food lens can be an important step for any therapeutic effort.  

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